United States District Court, S.D. New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
P. KEVIN CASTEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff Abdel-Shaheed Farrad Muhammad, who represents himself pro se, alleges that defendants violated his civil rights by destroying his personal copies of the Qur'an and the Bible while searching his cell at Rikers Island. He asserts, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his Muslim faith and deprived him of the right to due process, thereby violating the protections guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. He also asserts that the defendants violated New York law and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. ("RLUIPA").
The defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., arguing that Muhammad previously executed a general release (the "Release") that bars his claims in this action. The Release is not incorporated by reference into the Complaint, and it is unclear whether it was ever filed with a court. Defendants served Muhammad with the statement required by Local Civil Rule 56.2, which advised Muhammad that the motion to dismiss could potentially be converted into a motion for summary judgment. (Docket # 35.) In his opposition papers, Muhammad, who describes himself as an experienced litigant in this District, has included an affirmation and several evidentiary submissions that go beyond the four corners of his Complaint.
Because the parties have relied on evidence beyond the pleadings, the Court converts the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. The Release's express language bars Muhammad's claims in this action, and the defendants' motion for summary judgment is therefore granted.
Muhammad alleges that at approximately 9:00 a.m. on March 8, 2010, a search team entered housing Unit # 15A in the George R. Vierno Center ("GRVC") on Rikers Island. (Compl't at 2.) Corrections officers performed strip searches of the inmates, removed them from their cells and instructed them to observe in-cell searches. (Compl't at 2.) Muhammad states that he complied with all instructions. (Compl't at 2.)
According to the Complaint, a John Doe defendant corrections officer picked up Muhammad's copy of the Qur'an and examined it, at which point, Muhammad requested that the officer turn through the pages in order to inspect it for contraband. (Compl't at 2.) In response, the officer allegedly tore the cover from the Qur'an, threw it on the floor and stepped on it. (Compl't at 2.) A second officer did the same to Muhammad's copy of the Bible. (Compl't at 2.) Muhammad states that he immediately alerted a deputy warden, who then said, "Shut the fuck up!" and "Toss his fucken cell again!" (Compl't at 2.) The officers continued to search the cell and to step on the two books. (Compl't at 2.) According to Muhammad, officers threw the books and stepped on them during a subsequent search of March 16, 2010. (Compl't at 2.)
Muhammad states that he discussed the incidents with a facility chaplain, and showed the chaplain torn and shoe-marked books. (Compl't at 2-3.) The chaplain responded that the corrections staff had violated Muhammad's religious rights, and suggested that Muhammad file a complaint. (Compl't at 3.) Muhammad administratively grieved the incident, and his claim was denied. (Compl't at 3.)
Muhammad then commenced a state-court action in the Bronx Civil Court, where no disposition was reached. (Compl't at 3.) In opposition to the defendants' motion, he has submitted filings from that action, which apparently was commenced on or about September 9, 2010, and asserted that under the RLUIPA and the First Amendment, the City of New York and John Doe defendants were liable for damage to certain "religious books." (Opp. Mem. Ex. B.) Muhammad indicates that counsel for defendants neglected to litigate that action, prompting him to initiate the present case. (Muhammad Aff. ¶¶ 7-8.) Muhammad, who is no longer incarcerated, seeks $100, 000 in damages. (Compl't at 4.)
Muhammad states that he has "filed numerous civil matters within the USDC/SDNY from 1990 to current under the name Abdul-Shaheed Farrakhan-Muhammad, Shaheed Muhammad, Paul Farrad Simmons and Paul Simmons." (Compl't at 4.) According to the defendants, he also brought a previous action in the New York Supreme Court, Bronx County, captioned Paul Farrad Simmons v. City of New York, et al., Index No. 252169-2009 (the "Simmons Action"). (Gutmann Dec. ¶ 4.) The Simmons Action arose over officials' failure to return confiscated clothing. (Opp. Mem. at 2; Muhammad Aff. ¶ 5 & Ex. B.) Specifically, it appears that Muhammad, who then went by the name Paul Simmons, claimed that officials never returned five pairs of pants, twelve shirts and various other items of apparel. (Muhammad Aff. Ex. B.) On or about December 3, 2011, Muhammad executed a General Release (the "Release") settling that action, pursuant to which he was paid $1, 500 in consideration for releasing all existing claims against the City of New York. (Gutmann Dec. Ex B.) The Release stated in relevant part that Muhammad:
does hereby release and forever discharge the City of New York, and all past and present officers, directors, managers, administrators, employees, agents, assignees, lessees, and representatives of the City of New York, and all other individually named defendants and entities represented and/or indemnified by the City of New York, collectively the "RELEASEES, " from any and all claims, causes of action, suits, debts, sums of money, accounts, controversies, transactions, occurrences, agreements, promises, damages, judgments, executions, and demands whatsoever, known or unknown, which RELEASOR had, now has or hereafter can, shall, or may have against the RELEASEES for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever that occurred through the dates of this RELEASE.
(Gutmann Dec. Ex. B.) According to the defendants, because the present action seeks relief for events that occurred prior to the Release's execution, the Release governs this action, and Muhammad's claims must be dismissed.
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS IS CONVERTED INTO A MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.
"In adjudicating a motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the complaint, any written instrument attached to the complaint as an exhibit, any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference, and any document upon which the complaint heavily relies." In re Thelen LLP , 736 F.3d 213, 219 (2d Cir. 2013). If a motion to dismiss relies on "matters outside the pleadings, " the Court may convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, ...